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A beach wedding; Old Triangles on the coast and in the forest

The events in this post follow on from and intersect the events of our time in Playa del Carmen.

It’s now two and a half months since we returned from Mexico and so, understandably, my enthusiasm for sharing our adventures is waning a little (but mostly because I’m bitter that I’m not on another holiday already) and some of the finer details of what we got up to fading in my memory.

Brevity is not my strong suit, as you all know – I was just going to bombard you with photos for this final installment of my Yucatan story, but that didn’t quite work out. However, WordPress tells me the word count of this post is roughly half that of my previous Mexico entry… so, win? Ok, let’s go.

Tulum

Tulum was actually a fairly small Maya city, not as large or powerful as Chichen Itza or the nearby Coba. Most of its importance in Maya times as well as its attraction as a tourist spot today was and is due to its location by the sea.

Around the 1200s to 1400s, it served as the main port for Coba and marked the convergence of trade routes from all over Central America… Today, it makes for a pretty stunning and romantic landscape.

Most of Tulum’s structures have been pretty well restored which, as you would know if you’d read my Chichen Itza post, isn’t something I like, as when I visit “ruins”, I expect them to be at least somewhat in ruins.

However, I have to admit the whole effect was pretty scenic, the white waves breaking upon the sandy beach below.

As with all the other sites, we drove ourselves to Tulum, 45 minutes down the coast from Playa del Carmen, and arrived bright and early before almost all the other tourists. Besides the beautiful views, the other advantage this site had over Chichen Itza was that touts were not allowed inside the boundaries of the site itself and had to set up their shops and stalls just outside.

Iberostar Tucan & Quetzal Resort

We returned to Playa from Tulum to by about noon as it was a small site and without many other visitors and we were able to look around unhindered. Plus, it was pretty, but really not that historically interesting or significant.

After having lunch in town, we returned to the resort we’d checked into the night before to get ready for the wedding which we’d flown all the way from Australia for (or at least, provided us with the excuse to come to the other side of the world).

You might have gathered that I normally don’t like the idea of staying in all-inclusive resorts unless a) it’s only for a night or two, b) it’s a fairly small one without noisy kids, c) I’m pretty certain that there are good food options beyond family-style buffet dining and d) it’s pretty easy to get to town where the action is, preferably by walking. Unfortunately, Iberostar fit none of those criteria, and we only stayed there as that’s where the wedding was… however, fortunately, it had some cool things going for it which I didn’t all expect!

Firstly, it had a sort of rainforest theme and there was a forest sanctuary type area in the middle of the two-sided resort where native wildlife lived. Some of the animals also roamed the complex freely, so that you’d see peacocks wandering around near the lobby or outside your room on the lawn trying to mate with a peahen who was… less than interested. There were creeks and ponds where cute turtles lived, and you would cross a bridge overlooking said body of water to go to dinner. Pretty cool.

Secondly, the beach was really very nice.

Thirdly, the place was huge, so even though food options were scarce and low quality, at least you never felt like you were short on space. The Tucan side dwellers could easily wander over to the Quetzal side, and vice versa, and it would be a nice 10+ minute stroll, or more if you went through the rainforest to see the cute animals.

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The Wedding

Fourthly, the wedding was just beautiful. Not only because I got to see a dear friend marry the love of his life but everything was just done so perfectly. Simple and cute, a little casual, yet elegant and pretty – it was a beautiful day, the beach pristine. The resort organisers did a great job, but mostly the success, I’m sure, was due to the lovely bride’s perfectionism and great taste.

For the sake of privacy, I haven’t put up proper photos of the wedding party, but you can see how picturesque the set up was. The groom is a ginga – I’m pretty sure that’s what the orange side was for!

The red United mat? I guess red carpet makes everyone feel important, but for this couple, this has a deeper meaning. This particular carpet was painstakingly obtained through auction and I believe symbolises one of their first milestones together. No pun intended.

That atmosphere was one of… mirth. (Why does no one use that word anymore? How else can I describe it?) All the guests were in a light-hearted, unrestrained vacationing mood. I guess that’s the major advantage of destination weddings – everyone is away from home and their daily worries, able to throw all their energy into helping the couple celebrate. We were helped along by swag bags put together for every guest containing keep cups for the beach, drugs to fight hangovers, after sun remedies, rubber duckies and other goodies.

Due to plans to head out to Coba early the following day, we couldn’t stay late to party with the other revelers, and besides, to be honest, as introverts (and after an active day in the heat) we were a little drained by everyone’s high spirits.

Coba

To get to Coba from Playa, one has to first drive down to Tulum, then turn inland and take a less well maintained road north-east for another 45 minutes.

Coba was my favourite out of the Mayan sites we visited during this trip for a few reasons. Firstly, it wasn’t so well restored as Chichen Itza or Tulum. Secondly, it wasn’t so overrun with tourists – in fact, we barely saw a soul the entire time we were there, which was helped in part by point three; the place was huge! The built up area of Coba covers some 80 square kilometres and if we hadn’t hired bicycles (awesome point number 4), it could have taken us days to explore the site.

Lastly, I loved Coba because of the Nohuch Mul pyramid, which with its 42 metres of precariously steep and worn steps is the second highest structure of the whole Mayan world (and certainly the tallest in the Yucatan), and best of all you could still climb it!

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A special mention must go to the adorable squirrel I found leaping from tree to tree. Too bad it was to quick for me to capture it in action.

Riding our slightly rickety hire bikes through the canopied paths of the forest, surrounded by trees and bush and not a single human in sight, was indescribably delightful – I just felt giddy with exhilaration. We sped up or slowed down whenever – it didn’t matter. It had romantic potential too – if only I’d thought to pack a picnic lunch! We were away from harsh Yucatan summer sun, and even the mozzies kept surprisingly distant.

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And that concludes my travelogue for Mexico 2013. I shall be back with more pretty pictures from our next adventure, wherever that may be. In the meantime, I’m sure you will get very fat off my food-related blogging (if you listen to me at all, which you should).

You can see the set of full-sized photos on Flickr.

Egg Yolk Town, “Chicken Pizza” and other Old Triangles

Warning/Disclaimer: contains a lot of “old building porn” and almost half the photos were taken with an iPhone.
The events in this post are surrounded by our time in Merida

Uxmal

The first thing you need to know about Uxmal is that it’s not pronounced “Ucks-Mull”. It’s actually said like “Oosh-Mahl” and means “built three times”. A contemporary of Chichen Itza, Uxmal collaborated economically and politically with the larger city. It was founded around 500 AD reaching the height of its power being in the 9th century, being home to about 25,000 Maya during this golden era.

Today, it is one of the slightly less restored and less tourist-infested sites of Mayan ruins, located about 80 km south-west of Mérida, passing through a number of small villages. The road south from Mérida was modern but not exactly excellently maintained. We rocked up about 10 minutes before the site opened to the public and during our whole visit, we only saw about 3 other people. Hardly any of the structures were fenced off and un-climb-able, which we were to learn was a bit of a rarity.

Pyramid of the Magician

Nunnery Quadrangle

I’m no Mayan architecture expert, but apparently the buildings in Uxmal are typical of the Puuc style. There were beautiful friezes on the walls and sprawling courtyards (quandrangles), and lots of dramatic height for important structures.

Nunnery Quadrangle

Nunnery Quadrangle

Nunnery Quadrangle - seat or throne

Nunnery Quadrangle

The site of Uxmal includes two step pyramids. You are greeted by the Pyramid of the Magician (Pirámide del adivino) as you walk through the entrance. Quite an attractive structure from some angles, I noticed this pyramid has curved sides.

Pyramid of the Magician

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There was also a large ball court on which the Mayan version of the Ancient Mesoamerican ballgame was played once upon a time. Not a whole heap of detail is known today about the finer rules of this sport, however, we know that in most versions of the game you had to hit the ball with your hips and the use of hands and feet was not allowed. There are some further clues in the ballgame’s modern descendent, called ulama, still played by some indigenous communities in parts of Central America.

Ball court

What’s also fairly certain is that a rubber ball was used, and it was probably very heavy. Judging by the height of some of the hoops I’ve seen in the ancient courts, I can’t even imagine how hard it must have been to score, and boy do I hope they got their calcium, because hitting a 2kg (?) ball with just your pelvis has got to hurt!

Research has also suggested that the game was used to settle political conflict between cities instead of engaging in full on warfare. If that was the case, I kind of wish today’s wars could take the form of a friendly rugby game.

Not so friendly was the fact that a bit later on in Maya history the game was closely entwined with human sacrifice rituals. Hmmmm.

Ball court

The Governor’s Mansion was impressively majestic and overlooked the whole site, being built on top of a hill. Even today, it’s a beautiful view.

Governor's Mansion

View from the Governor's Mansion

Governor's Mansion

The Great Pyramid (la Gran Pirámide) is the bigger of the two “old triangles” and despite a cautionary sign, we scrambled all the way up to the capstone. It had a great view of the remaining façade of the House of the Doves (below right).

Great Pyramid of Uxmal

View of House of the Doves from the Great Pyramid of Uxmal


Great Pyramid of Uxmal

Another shot of the gorgeous House of the Doves:

House of the Doves

All of the Maya sites we visited were surrounded by greenery, probably having been excavated from amongst jungley-ness. I attracted mozzies like nobody’s business at each of them but Uxmal was far from the worst for that. Nevertheless, that evening we hunted down insect repellent. There were also lots of big-ass lizards just happily wandering around like they owned the place. I guess they kind of do, since they’re the largest permanent residents?

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Uxmal ended up being a great first Maya experience and the fact that there was barely anyone else around except lizards and we didn’t encounter a single person trying to sell us stuff really helped us enjoy it immensely.

Chichen Itza (which rhymes with chicken pizza) the next day… was a different story.

On the way back, we went a slightly alternative route following a little truck loaded with what I think were plantains and drove through a small town.

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I loved all the ultra-colourful residential buildings everywhere in Mexico.

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Chichen Itza

Almost every structure in Chichen Itza was fenced off with a wide berth. So visiting was basically a lot of standing 20 metres away from a bunch of old stones thinking “oh, that’s nice… moving on!” Many of the main buildings had been restored to nearly pristine condition. On the one hand, I guess it’s nice to be able to see almost exactly what a pyramid looked like a millennium-and-a-half ago, but it just doesn’t “feel” right to see something so ancient looking so shiny and new and “perfect”.

El Castillo pyramid is the worst culprit. From only a few metres away, it looks like it was built last year!

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What was fortunate was that we managed to beat every single tour bus and all but a dozen or less other visitors. We also arrived before any touts – in fact, we didn’t even know they were going to be setting up unattractively right in the middle of the site until an hour or so after we came in.

The rich history of Chichen Itza covers almost 1000 years in Mayan chronology. It was one of the largest and most powerful histories in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

The temple atop the pyramid served the Maya god Kukulkan, a deity in the form of a feathered serpent. But the really interesting thing about El Castillo is that each of its quite symmetrical four sides has 91 steps, and added together with the capstone (top) counting as the final step it makes 365 – the number of days in a year.

The Temple of Warriors along with a couple of other temples are surrounded by a thousand beautifully carved columns. I don’t actually know if there are exactly a thousand of them but collectively, the structures are called the Group of a Thousand Columns and they were my favourite group. In its heyday, the columns would have supported an extensive roof.

Temple of Warriors and Group of a Thousand Columns

Temple of Warriors and Group of a Thousand Columns

Though the ballcourt at Uxmal was considered a large one, the Great Ballcourt of Chichen Itza was in a league of its own. This court is actually the largest in Mesoamerica and currently the most well preserved. Magnificent…

The Great Ballcourt - Chichen Itza

The Great Ballcourt - Chichen Itza

The Great Ballcourt - Chichen Itza

Here’s a small step pyramid called the Osario. A temple at the top opened into the pyramid, and in the cave below, several skeletons were excavated in the 19th century.

Osario pyramid

I talked about the annoyance of the souvenir stalls setting up right in the middle of the Chichen Itza complex, but I’ll allow that some of them actually had pretty cool stuff. Hand-made, some of them unique and one-off, others very similar to what everyone else was selling but clearly not manufactured all in the same big factory. That may sound like a strange remark but after having identical souvenirs touted in my face in a dozen developing countries, this is saying something.

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It was at about this point when my camera ran out of juice because I’d stupidly decided the night before that it didn’t need a charge. I had only charged a few days before and at home it tended to last a month or more, but the heat combined with walking around for hours with it switched on a lot of the time was obviously draining it more than I thought! The rest of my photos that day were taken with my trusty iPhone 5, which did an okay job… but when we got to Izamal later, and when I tried to zoom in down on KP diving into a cenote, I really wish I still had my G1 X.

So, I guess I was pissed off about that when I took the next few photos, because I can’t for the life of me remember what they’re of!

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El Caracol (The Snail) is a circular or cylindrical temple built a top a platform and looks suspiciously like an observatory of some sort. Interestingly, historians do believe it was used for astronomical observations, particularly that of the movement of Venus.

El Caracol observatory

Among the things I found out at the Maya world museum in Mérida was that the peninsula’s foundation is made of limestone and other carbonate rock, like a big fat sponge. Due to this geological composition, the Yucatan’s famous caverns and sinkholes (cenotes) were born out of gradual limestone erosion and collapse from moisture absorption over the centuries.

Chichen Itza is home to two large cenotes, Cenote Sagrado (Sacred Cenote) and Cenote Xtoloc, which supplied the ancient city with water as well as being used in sacrificial rituals. Objects as well as humans were sacrificed and valuable artifacts were uncovered in the early 20th century.

Sacred Cenote

Sacred Cenote

Cenote Ik Kil

The final photo (right) above shows Cenote Ik Kil, which is not part of the Chichen Itza complex but a few kilometres outside the ancient city. This was safe for swimming and accessible to the public for a fee (as you can tell by the smoothed walls and the ladders) and KP had a wee dive in here. The iPhone did a shitty job of capturing this action down in the dark sinkhole so I haven’t included those photos.

Izamal

By the time we left Chichen Itza, our hire car was running out of petrol and there wasn’t a gas station in sight. Everything seemed to be dying on me that day. At one point, a giant sign teased us by having an image of a petrol pump machine on it, which got us excited, only to read the label “80 KM” underneath. What is the point of having a sign to indicate something that is eighty kilometres away, if not to take the piss!?

Our calculations indicated that we would most likely but not certainly make it all the way back to Mérida on our current tank, but the bigger problem is that I actually wanted to make a huge detour to see Izamal. With the average data reception on my phone, I managed to – maybe, vaguely, on some dodgy forum somewhere, perhaps, there’s-a-pretty-good-chance – figure out that there was a Pemex (Mexico’s state-owned petrol company) in Izamal. That being good enough, off we went, driving through some tiny towns and over horrible, bumpy, narrow roads and passing many a motorised tuk tuk taxi.

Izamal is one of Mexico’s “Magical Towns“. I’m pretty unclear on what that means or what the criteria are but perhaps Wikipedia can tell you (I didn’t read it that closely). I don’t know about you, but when I hear “magical” and “yellow” in the same sentence, I just think of the Wizard of Oz.

Large for a town but very small for a city, I don’t know if I’d call Izamal “magical”; however, it was pretty charming and pretty pretty.

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For one thing, every building within the city centre and just outside of it is painted the same shade of egg yolk yellow. It’s pretty magnificent and a bit dizzying as you’re driving through it. My poor iPhone didn’t know what to make of all the yellow and I’m sure the colour balance is off in these photos because it was really much cooler in person.

Izamal

Izamal

The town was a maze of one-way streets and Google was not being as helpful as it was in Mérida – we almost didn’t find the Pemex! It was only by accidentally driving the wrong way down one of these streets that we lucked out. We were stopped by a cop and at first were convinced that this was “finally it” – we’d be asked to fork out the bribe money like we’d been warned. Instead, the lovely dude explained to us in decent English that we were idiots driving the wrong way and gave us directions to the petrol station.

Izamal

Izamal

Like many of the larger towns and cities in the Yucatan, Izamal was built on top of ancient Mayan ruins and is surrounded today by several important Maya archaeological sites. In the centre of the town, atop an Ancient Maya acropolis and next to two large public parks is a huge Franciscan monastery. Or convent. I don’t know, because I’ve heard it called both. Either way, it’s one of the oldest in Central America, and the Atrium was the second largest in the world (after the Vatican!) at the time of its completion in 1561.

Izamal - Franciscan Monastery

The Franciscan monk Fray Diego de Landa, who was born in Spain but was sent to Colonial Yucatan to bring the Roman Catholic faith to the Maya, became a Bishop and resided here.

Izamal - Franciscan Monastery

Izamal - Franciscan Monastery

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While Landa was ruthless in his efforts to stamp out “paganism”, burning and destroying many Mayan codices (writings) and religious idols, he also dedicated much of his life in recording detailed accounts of the Maya language, writing, culture and religion, much of which work is deemed quite accurate even today.

Izamal - Franciscan Monastery

Izamal - Franciscan Monastery

And there, my friends, ends your history lesson for the day, and ours for that day. Our Maya and Colonial Adventures over for at least a few sleeps, we drove back to Mérida through those little crappy country roads on a nice full tank of gas.

You can see the set of full-sized photos on Flickr.
Next up: Playa del Carmen

Mérida and Yucatecan Noms

The events in this post follow on from our time in Cancun

Our arrival into Mérida was even wetter and more depressing than our Cancun landing. A very flat city with narrow streets in the older parts of town, we passed through some pretty decent flooding coming in around sunset.

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Here was when my Mexican SIM card really became indispensible. We had hired a car to take us everywhere, as we wanted to go places public buses and tours didn’t go, we wanted to avoid peak times for visiting the ruins and have the freedom of checking out the more obscure corners of the city itself without having to negotiate a taxi fare every time. A Sat Nav unit could be added to the car hire for a fee which I thought was rather exorbitant, and even then, of course, it wouldn’t have the up-to-date detail of Google maps as far as landmarks go. The price I paid for 1 GB of data and some included minutes on my SIM ended up being the same as the Sat Nav unit would have cost in the car, and obviously with so many more perks.

What’s more, and what we didn’t realise until we got there, is that Mérida doesn’t even have street numbers! So, addresses only got as specific as “near the corner of this street and this street, across from this famous building”, which is nothing if not impossible to enter into most navigation systems; and almost every street in the historic centre was a one-way, not always with clear signage. Needless to say, I became an expert at following that little blue GPS dot on Google Maps and giving on-the-fly turn-by-turn directions for places I had never been to in my life.

We had decided to base ourselves in Mérida due to its proximity to Mayan sites of Uxmal and Chichen Itza, and several other smaller ones, and because of its own rich Spanish colonial history. Spanish conquistadors founded the city in the mid-1500s, built on top of the Mayan city of T’hó. Like many conquistadors, they seemed to be assholes and so some of the oldest buildings in Mérida are built using the stones from ruined structures of Ancient T’hó – including the Catedral de San Ildefonso, possibly the oldest cathedral in the Americas.

In the 19th and early 20th century, some of the families of Mérida became very wealthy off the back of plantations of henequen, used to make sisal rope. There are still beautiful old haciendas (estates) around the area, many of which have now been converted into hotels, restaurants and in at least one case, a tourist attraction claiming to demonstrate the entire process from planting, harvesting to rope making. The city’s main boulevard, Paseo de Montejo, was built by the rich of Mérida in the 19th century; an attractive, well-kept tree-lined wide avenue leading out of the historic city centre, it is home to gorgeous mansions of the post-colonial era.

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After leaving our stuff at the hotel, we braved the watery streets again to seek out local food, much wanted after the procession of decent but inauthentic international fare we had at Secrets. Yucatecan cuisine is distinctive from common Mexican food and has much stronger European influences due to the peninsula’s early isolation from the rest of the country. We had plenty of both culinary traditions while we were in the Yucatan.

We found La Chaya Maya, which was full of locals and tourists alike, and had a great buzz and atmosphere.

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Unfortunately, the food was really not that great. Having had no experience with Yucatecan food, I couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong other than that it was all a bit bland compared to what I expected, and the dishes seemed neither cold nor hot but kind of a clammy lukewarm. That description makes it sound worse than it was – it wasn’t horrible, I was just extremely underwhelmed.

I had the Relleno Negro – ground turkey and pork cooked in a sauce made from several varieties of blackened chilies and spices. It had a surprising sweetness to it, and wasn’t chilli-hot in the least, and I couldn’t identify a large number of spices in it at all. The other dish pictured is called “los tres mosqueteros yucatecos”, featuring three corn tortillas stuffed with turkey and smothered with three Yucatecan sauces – relleno negro (as aforementioned), pipian sauce, and papadzul sauce. All three were quite sweet, but particularly the cream coloured one, which I found almost sickeningly sweet for accompanying a meat dish. The reddish one, however, I quite enjoyed.

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I finished off with a flan, because there was no way I wasn’t going to have as much flan as possible while in Mexico. It’s one of my favourite desserts from basically anywhere in the world!

Disappointingly, when we woke up the morning after our arrival, the rain was still relentless and we couldn’t head out to visit the smaller Mayan sites I had wanted to see on our first full day. Instead, we stayed in bed until the rain had temporarily let up and went to explore the historic city centre. One thing about the tropical heat: the streets dried out super quickly, and later that day, just as quickly, flooded out again.

El Centro Histórico de Mérida was once enclosed by city walls. The streets are numerous, narrow, mostly in a grid and are numbered – odd-numbered streets ran east-to-west and even-numbered ones north-to-south. They were one-way with the direction alternating with each subsequent street. The historic centre was full of splendid, sometimes colourful Spanish colonial buildings, many restaurants and bars, and budget to mid-range accommodation. After wandering around this area on foot for a bit, the downpour started again and we decided to have a look at the Mayan history museum near the outskirts of the city.

Mérida is a sprawling, cosmopolitan city with almost a million population, mostly well-maintained modern (and – other than in the historic centre – wide) roads, highways, multinational chains and big shopping malls. As the administrative capital of the Yucatan state, it is home to a decent number of expats, and I had fun tracking down some of these guys’ blogs for locally-residing-yet-English-speaking tips and recommendations.

We were guided to el Gran Museo del Mundo Maya by trusty Google Maps and my iPhone 5.

The above right is a vessel designed for drinking chocolate!
And below: Maya Almanacs

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I found many of the statues of Mayan deities to be quite cute, and the beautifully decorated stelae to be surprisingly intricate.

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A touchscreen computer program allowed me to analyse my date of birth on the Mayan Calendar and email it to myself.

It was mid-afternoon by the time we were finished, and I’ll definitely say that the museum was informative and well worth the visit. All the signs and explanations were trilingual in Spanish, Maya and English. Yucatec Maya is spoken by a third of the population of the Yucatan Peninsula, where 60% of the population is of Mayan descent. The downpour had become a drizzle and we were starved.

After many a wrong turn and run down neighbourhood street, we arrived at a beautifully restored hacienda called Xcanatun which now houses a boutique hotel and a high-end restaurant serving creatively fusion-istic Maya cuisine. This was, without question, the best food we had all trip, and definitely not just because we finally found KP’s favourite Mexican brew.

Modelo has the largest share of the beer market in Mexico, yet for some reason, none of the first half dozen or more restaurants and eateries we went to had the “Negra” brand that he learned he preferred from a Central/South American dinner we partook in back home during the Melbourne Food and Wine festival.

There’s not much to be said about the food other than that it was delicious! Delicately prepared and beautifully presented, the fusion dishes mostly got it “just right” with the fine balance of Western and Mexican flavours; and the service was impeccable. I was honestly quite surprised at the world class calibre of the dining at this reputable but pretty secluded estate, or maybe my expectations had been dropped by days of average or only-kind-of-good food.

My absolute favourite was the Crema de Chile Poblano al Roquefort – (self-explanatorily, cream of poblano chili with roquefort cheese). It was served with fresh tortilla strips and a dramatic piece of blackened poblano pepper, and to this day I cannot get the amazing taste of this soup out of my mind. This only slightly overshadowed my main event, which was cochinita(pork, in this case pulled pork)-stuffed Angus beef eye fillet with herb-roasted onion, habanero peppers and “cochinita sauce”. I took it that last item referred to the sauce traditionally served with cochinita pibil, but I can safely say I didn’t enjoy any of the subsequent cochinita pibil dishes I ate over the rest of the trip even half as much as this dish. It was substantial, yes, and maybe a little unbalanced or heavy-handed only in the large proportion of protein on the plate, but it was oh-so-good!

I believe KP’s entrada and plato fuerte were both from the specials board and can no longer remember exactly what they were, but I do remember the decadent flan with toasted coconut, caramel sauce and coconut praline that I ordered for dessert as well as KP’s tequila-infused key lime pie. Both were a perfect blend of Mexican and European tastes.

Sometime, very early on in our trip, we somehow fell into the cycle of early wake-ups followed by a daytime activity, then a mid-to-late-afternoon siesta followed by a late dinner. On this day, we somehow overdid the siesta part, probably due to our amazing and substantial late lunch, and I suddenly awoke at about 10pm and bolted out of bed.

It was raining again and we ended up at a nightclub called Casa Pompidou which reportedly also served amazing wood-fired pizza which we never got to sample as there wasn’t any space left in the eating area even at that hour. The place was interesting and had some seriously eye-catching art, but totally not our scene, and besides, most of the dance floor was open-air.

Wet and hungry, we drove around central Mérida for some time, looking out for somewhere open which had both food and parking until we stumbled across a place on Paseo de Montejo called Slavia. The decor inside was ridiculous! It was an over-the-top blend of “Arabian Nights, French Boudoir, and Asian Temple” and among its other gimmicks, it served a variety of fondue. Regretfully, we ordered a set of this and it was horrible – the cheese was overpowering, did not melt easily and the bread served was ridiculously stale, and the seared tuna side dish overcooked, tasteless and barely edible. The fondue was supposed to be infused with peppers and spices but instead was just quite a pungent cheese that drowned out anything else it came in contact with. We also tried a venison carpaccio which, though fresh enough to be perfectly safe, was for some reason drowned in too much olive oil. All in one day, we had had the best and the worst meal of our stay in Mexico.

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With an early rise planned for the next day to explore Uxmal, we pretty much headed straight to bed after this crappy experience, hoping that we wouldn’t get “cheese nightmares“.

I will talk about our Uxmal expedition in a future post. Thanks to our early start and having our own transport, we were back in Mérida fairly early in the afternoon , so we decided to pay the largest local market a visit. The Mercado Lucas de Gálvez is within the historic city centre and is really more of a marketplace area, spread out over many buildings with all kinds of merchants, meat and produce, and street food vendors. Not a gringo in sight that day, it was a busy, colourful area and the traffic congestion was insane!

Many carts prepared and sold tortas (basically a sandwich) and tacos.

There was a massive open air food court type area where we had the best tacos of our whole trip for 5 pesos each. That’s roughly 40 cents AU. #canteven

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I may have overdosed on the hottest salsa I’ve ever tasted. Oops. I can’t stop thinking about this afternoon and wishing I could get amazing 40 cent tacos here at home.

With our tummies happy, mouths burning and body overheated (it was really hot), we headed to the mall for some shopping and air conditioned relief…

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… where we found clothing and “stuff” and I bought mundane essentials such as a top up of eyeliner. We were also hunting for an HDMI cable, of all nerdy things, as we wanted to watch the latest Game of Thrones episode (it was the Red Wedding one) that was on my laptop. Apparently, we had to watch it on a bigger screen, hence needing the cable. In our search, we ended up at a massive superstore-thing which was like a huge Big W (or NZ’s The Warehouse) with a large supermarket attached, among which interesting things we found were a million flavours of microwave popcorn and a giant tank full of nothing but chicharrones (pork crackling)! Now, the crackling I can understand, as it’s a complement to many Mexican dishes, but it seems that in this part of the world there was also a little obsession with popcorn. It seemed to be sold everywhere as a cheap snack, like fries might be in the US.

That night, we had a pretty so-so Yucatecan meal at Los Almendros near our hotel and rolled “home” to bed the next morning.

After returning from Chichen Itza, a nearby cenote (sinkhole) and the charming town of Izamal the next afternoon, we headed to the historic city centre for some cheap, honest Mexican food. El Trappiche was a very basic eatery in a low-end cafe type setting, opening out to the street and with no air con. It was packed full of locals, the menus were in Spanish only and the staff didn’t speak English – all good signs. I ordered an enchiladas with salsa verde, and it didn’t disappoint. The presentation was, of course, nothing to look at, but the salsa was delicious. KP’s burrito was a simple affair with melted cheese and a huge side dollop of refried beans, but was enjoyed all the same. Sometimes, after a sweltering morning climbing pyramids and swimming in sinkholes, this is just the type of thing you need!

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A refreshing virgin piña colada finished off my experience, and it was honestly among the best iced coconut-based drinks I’ve ever had (and I’ve had countless across the world). My only complaint was the “sprinkle” of cinnamon they put on top was actually more like a thick layer of the stuff, and this wasn’t the first time in the Yucatan that I’ve had this “cinnamon problem”.

We had the same type of fare the next morning – three cheesy breakfast tacos – as we prepared to hop on a bus back to the Caribbean coast, this time headed to Playa del Carmen.

You can see the set of full-sized photos on Flickr.

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